February 8, 2012
By Petros Fassoulas
For a while now the rhetorical narrative of those that advocate leaving the EU has been accompanied by a variety of alternatives to EU membership. Many ideas have been put forward, some quite ‘exotic’ or outright unrealistic, but there are two paradigms that are held up as the best possible options for Britain: Norway and Switzerland.
But upon closer inspection both options fail to stand up to scrutiny. They are both very different to Britain and not an appropriate model for how a country like the UK conducts its affairs on the world stage. Both Norway and Switzerland are small and peripheral states, with specialised economies and limited aspirations for influence at the global stage.
Take Norway for example, as a member of the European Free Trade Association it is part of the European Economic Area, which does give it access to the Single Market, with all the economic advantages that come with it. But here lays the catch, to be part of the Single Market and enjoy the benefits that affords you, Norway has to abide with its rules (not to mention contribute handsomely to the EU budget). But since Norway is not a member of the European Union it does not have the right to take part in the decision-making structures that decide the rules that govern that Single Market. Not a particularly advantageous state of affairs and the Norwegian government had the following to say in a recently published report: ‘The most problematic aspect of Norway’s form of association with the EU is the fact that Norway is in practice bound to adopt EU policies and rules in a broad range of issues without being a member and without voting rights. This raises democratic problems. Norway is not represented in decision-making processes that have direct consequences for Norway, and neither do we have any significant influence on them. Moreover, our form of association with the EU dampens political engagement and debate in Norway and makes it difficult to monitor the Government and hold it accountable in its European policy’ (Outside and Inside: Norway’s agreements with the European Union).
This is a damning verdict for those that call for withdrawal of the EU. Asking to relegate the UK to such an associate membership status is catastrophic and it does an enormous disservice to Britain, limits its influence on the international stage and undermines its ability to form the decisions that have an impact on its economic wellbeing.
The case of Switzerland is no different. It has to abide by the rules that govern the Single Market if it wants its companies to trade within it but it has no representation in the institutions, the EU Council and the European Parliament, which make those rules. Perhaps this is a satisfactory situation for a country with 2% of the EU population that might have compromised with the fact that its ability to influence the things that affect it is limited.
But Britain is one of the largest EU member states, smaller only to Germany and Poland, and of similar size to France. It has considerable influence over EU policies that affect it. Its views, when argued with confidence and convincing arguments, are respected and listened to. Very rarely has Britain lost a vote on matters governed by qualified majority voting, it is always consulted by the European Commission when it comes, for example, to rule-making in financial services and it has repeatedly and successfully argued its case before the European Court of Justice, which has ruled in its favour in cases that have to do with single market issues and liberalisation of trade.
Leaving the EU would mean removing ourselves from where decisions are made. Britain’s place is not outside the room, with its face pressed against the window, watching others take decisions that affect us, without us. Britain’s place is at the heart of the decision-making structures that govern one of the biggest economies of the world.
The benefits of EU membership are numerous and have often been repeated by pro-Europeans. Britain gains both in economic terms and in terms of its standing in the world. Our ability to influence the things that affect us, like Iranian nuclear aspirations, negotiations on climate change, international trade agreements, energy security, illegal immigration, international crime is enhanced when we act together with our EU partners, using the institutions of the EU as a vehicle to pursue our common interests. Leaving the EU will remove us not just from the biggest and wealthiest common market in the world. It will set us apart from an organisation (and its institutions) that share our aspirations for a liberal and peaceful world where democracy, the rule of law, respect of human rights and environmental protection reigns. The globalisation of our world and the rising power of developing countries are both full of challenges and opportunities. Britain can either try to make the most of these challenges and opportunities by standing together with its EU partners or risk having its influence fade by standing apart from them. This is no time to contemplate leaving the EU. The EU is a platform upon which we can all stand taller. We must make the most of that platform to increase our influence in the world and promote the principles that are important to us.
Petros Fassoulas is chairman of the European Movement UK.
This article was first published in the January issue of The European www.euromove.org.ukAuthor : UK in Europe